Getting into the system took some time. The lone lady in reception was clearly flustered.
She glared at me briefly and then said, "There's only me here, you'll have to wait.
Just sit over there, next to that gentleman -
The seat faced the reception desks so I thought that I would be OK. Out of sight,
out of mind, surely the opposite must follow -
The other patient waiter was clearly in pain and probably now was not the time for
a conversation -
"What happened to you," I asked,
"Gearbox fell on me leg," he said, wincing.
"Are you a mechanic then," I said, as if a gearbox could fall on any old person's leg.
He didn't seem to notice the superfluity of this remark and gave me all the details: type of vehicle, support given to the gearbox, how the support failed and the heavy crash onto his knee! Fortunately a new lady had now entered the reception area and was directed to this poor chap by the gatekeeper. The new lady, a dumpy woman with a fixed smile, came towards us leaving the gatekeeper alone again; I looked hopefully at her but was ignored.
The mechanic was interrogated and his details recorded. He was then directed to Minor
Then, my worst fears were realised, a couple swept through the doors and walked straight
up to dumpy lady's cubicle -
"Have you forgotten me?" I asked, reasonably loudly and hopefully not too plaintively.
Everyone looked at me, the two receptionists and the two queue jumpers. I detected a fleeting look of annoyance in the face of the gatekeeper, then guilt, and then officialdom.
"Please sit down sir. You will be seen once these two have been admitted. We are under pressure here you know."
Thankfully the couples' admission didn't take long -
At Minor Injuries I found a nurse, as instructed. She quickly decided what was wrong
with my injured hand and I quickly learned not to scream when tortured; she wasn't
unkind but she certainly knew where to press to find the pain. I was given a piece
of paper and directed to the X-
At last my name was called. A man, who was obviously an accountant pathetically disguised
in a white coat, took me to the enormous X-
Then my name was called again, the accountant was back. He led me back to the X-
Walking along the corridor I did a one handed inspection of my X-
Time passed. I did some Spanish practice. More time passed, I studied a book on Turkey,
a country that I hoped to visit in a few months time. Hours went by. People came
and went. I observed that children got priority attention -
"I fell down the stairs," she said, almost proudly.
It transpired that she had been, with her friend, to look at rooms available for
rental in a shared house. Somehow she got her foot stuck in the stairway and fell
"I really hope it's broken," she laughed, "It's the first time that I've been to hospital so I want to leave with something to show for it."
She certainly helped to dispel the gloom of the place, but then her friend returned and they began an intense conversation in a variety of English that I barely understood, so I returned to my books.
I had now passed through various phases in the waiting game. Uncaring at first, I
was pleased to have the time to study and read. Later I thought it was quite interesting
to watch the comings and goings of the injured. My mechanic smiled as he awkwardly
moved up the corridor towards the exit on the crutches that he had been given, others
came by in wheelchairs -
At long last, after many hours I decided not to ‘just sit’. I determined to enter the inner reaches of Minor Injuries and put the question to them, "have I been passed over?"
Then, almost exactly on cue, my name was called. The nurse, doctor, assistant or whatever was young, dressed in a green uniform and clearly agitated.
"I'm very sorry," she gushed, " we missed you. I don't know why. But why didn't you say something?"
"I assumed there were more urgent cases than mine. So I…."
"You should have said something. Anyway we cannot see a fracture, your X-
"Yes I know, I looked at……"
"Why didn't you say something? I don't know how it happened. Now, we have to wait for the swelling to go down. It's no good going to Trauma just yet."
"I did it eight days ago, the swelling has gone."
"It will still be swollen. You should have said something, not just sit there."
"What is Trauma?"
"You must go to Trauma tomorrow. They will take a more detailed look. The scaphoid
is a difficult bone -
She raced off and returned with a polythene bag which she expertly rips open. Inside
was a strange blue and black thing -
"I can't come back tomorrow," I managed to interject, I have to be on the streets collecting money for charity."
"People will give you more money now that you have this on. Now take this form to
reception, they will make an appointment for you -
Off I go, past the fresh line of walking wounded. At reception I try to find out
what "Trauma" is -
Still at least I have something to show for my sitting -
"Hullo, it's me. I've got one here without notes." She does not look at me
"Yes I know." She looks at her nails.
"Are you going to the…" She taps the computer screen with her pen.
"Yes, well it isn't the first time and it won't be the last." She looks despairing.
"Thanks, yes, see you soon." She replaces the phone and says to me. "Just sit over there. Someone will call you."
Chastened by yesterday's marathon, I venture. "Will it take long? Will I have to wait long?"
She looks puzzled, genuinely puzzled, "There's no one here yet. Just sit over there, you will be called."
I had pretty much got the message and slid out of the entrance doors to make a call.
"Its Rob. I'm at the hospital. The way things look I doubt that I'll be there by eleven. Just carry on and I'll find you or phone you. Heaven knows when. I might be here forever."
Just sitting in the Trauma waiting area isn't so bad. It could be used as a theatre;
it's so big. The doctors and nurses could stage reviews in the blank area next to
the reception desk. Perhaps they do -
Things are hotting up. A couple of people have had their name called and have vanished
into some inner sanctuary. Then it's me. Wow, this is much better. In the inner sanctuary
I am shown to one of the many cubicles that are ranged around the periphery and told
to ‘just sit’ -
Then I received a visitor, an Australian I think. A handsome, polite young man, he
examined my hand, much more gently than the nurse in Minor Injuries did, maybe she
was used to more exciting injuries. He was attentive and confidence inspiring, I
think that he must have been a junior doctor. He tells me to ‘just sit’ while he
confirms the diagnosis. As he leaves he draws the curtain of my cubicle, cutting
me off from the world of Trauma which itself is cut from the outside world by the
insulating layers of the hospital and its administration. I can just see God through
a split in the curtain. His finger waves over the interior view of my hand, now placed
on the X-
Junior returns and tells me that all is well, they do not think that my scaphoid
is fractured -
"But, I have to fit a new kitchen and……."
He listens politely but I know it is hopeless to protest, I am in the system now.
"Just sit here and I will arrange for the physiotherapist to see you."
Oh no, not more expert attention. Now they have me, will they ever let me go!
"Just sit here?" I asked -
"Yes, someone will find you."
I settled down with my book. After some time I thought I heard someone call my name
Finally I acted, I was not going to be left in that cubicle forever, overlooked and ignored. I sallied forth and accosted a nurse, explained that I was waiting for the physiotherapist and…
The nurse raised her eyes to the ceiling, Junior passed by but didn't seem to notice or recognise me.
"Follow me," she said. And led me to the far end of the huge waiting room. She stopped
next to an extensive area furnished as a children's play ground -
"Just sit there, the physio will be out soon."
"Oh dear God, here we go again," I inwardly scream, "I've been missed and now I've
dropped out of the system." But at least there was no one else waiting. Then, an
elderly couple came along. They wisely sat closer to the physio's door than me. Soon
after that the physio popped out saying "Mrs Farginson." The lady got painfully to
her feet. I quietly sympathised, but what about me? I fearlessly rushed up to the
"Uh, I think I heard my name called. I was in a cubical over there. I wasn't sure. My name is Robert Walters."
The physiotherapist looked a trifle annoyed.
"Just sit there," she said, "I must see this lady first."
"But," I thought as I sank back into the chair," it's so unfair. Junior told me to wait in the cubicle, I couldn't hear you, it's not my fault. Don't leave me here." Meanwhile the words "you should have said something" echoed around my skull.
She did see me after the lady had left, and was delightfully friendly. I was given
thumb exercises and told not to wear the wrist restraint unless I went out, "so that
other people would know that I had an injured hand." Then she started to make another
appointment! Aargh -
Rob Walters -
Last night, Friday 5th October 2002, I was ejected from Borders bookshop in Oxford
(now a Tesco Metro!) under police escort. Awaiting me, as I emerged into Magdalene
St at nine o’clock on a warm autumnal evening, were three police cars. My crime -
The talk, by an author who was at the time unknown to me, was due to start at seven.
I arrived with my wife, Margaret, just about on time. I’m not sure why she joined
me, but was very glad that she did since I might otherwise have doubted my own memories
of the event. I had spotted the topic on a Borders’ flyer some time ago and had selected
this event from an otherwise uninspiring selection and had written it into my diary:
Andrew Malcolm, 7 p.m. We had made the journey from Stow-
As we descended by escalator into the lower ground floor I experienced one of those
moments when I sincerely wished that I were alone. I could see the place, a small
square in the sports section of the bookshop, where talks were usually held as we
travelled downwards. However, the usual arrangement of chairs and public announcement
gear was not there. I immediately thought that I had got something wrong: wrong night,
wrong place, wrong week, or whatever. If I were alone it would not matter, but with
Margaret in tow I would have to assume some responsibility for my mistake. However,
there were about a dozen people gathered in the sports section so I made my way towards
them. As I approached a white haired man dressed in a black suit turned towards me.
We shook hands and I quickly learned that this was the author that I had come to
The man at the centre of the group, Andrew Malcolm, said that they, Borders, had wanted to cancel the event on the basis that no one would come, yet, as we could observe there were at least ten of us present. He then decided to contact the management and explain that there were people here, people who wanted to hear him speak, so could they please get the thing started. He went off and we milled around, muttering into our beards or whatever beardless people mutter into.
He quickly reappeared with a man in his early thirties, almost bald, casually dressed,
round faced, bright eyed and a with a very slight stoop. Malcolm addressed him, basically
saying that these people (us) wanted to hear him speak. The young man announced himself
as the manager of the store and forcibly pointed out to Malcolm that the event had
been cancelled two weeks ago and that he Malcolm had been clearly informed of this
by telephone. Malcolm denied this and we, the audience said that we had not been
cancelled. I spoke up by saying that we had come all the way from Stow-
Someone then said that the event had been announced in that day’s Oxford Times (which I later saw). He said that he was not in control of the press. Someone else said that the announcement was still on their own (Borders’) website. This was true; it was still there the next morning (5/10/02 at about 11a.m.). Here is the copy:
FRI 4TH -
One of Oxford's most controversial figures introduces his books
The manager said that someone else in the company controlled the website. He answered
these questions politely, usually with a half smile. Malcolm kept battering him with
more questions, most of which amounted to rephrasings of -
It was then suggested that, since we were here and so was the author, the event should go ahead as planned. No, said the manager, he would not allow such a thing to go ahead, this was private property and it was his store and he would not allow a meeting to take place. I then suggested to someone, who later turned out to be Malcolm’s wife, that we go to the pub. “No we can go there later,” she said. I had meant that we go to the pub and hold the meeting there but she had obviously misunderstood and I did not pursue the matter.
Malcolm then said that instead of a meeting we could just have a chat. This was greeted with great enthusiasm by everyone in the audience including myself, but not by the manager. He made it clear that he did not want any form of meeting to take place. It was then that a book browser who had been listening to some of the interchange joined the discussion. He was a dark haired man with spectacles and wore light denim clothing. He had the look of a mature student about him. He said that he was disgusted by what he had heard and that if this was the way that Border’s treated people who simply wanted to meet to discuss a book he for one no longer wished to shop there. He left; soon to be followed by the manager.
We then began, rather timidly, to rearrange the furniture. No one seemed to know
quite what to do, it was if we were doing something wrong -
Malcolm himself is not particularly tall and is quite well-
As we all settled down he took two books and some papers from his bag and everyone around the table encouraged him to speak. He now seemed rather withdrawn. First he asked if anyone was in complete ignorance of his cause and the content of his books. Margaret and I and one other shyly raised our hands. By this time the camaraderie that had arisen in our group stemming from its opposition to the overbearing Borders’ management made our confession of ignorance seem a little out of place. But confess we had to, otherwise we would have felt even more foolish.
Malcolm began to explain his case very quietly. At first he skirted around the crux
of it as if he did not know where to start -
The two men accompanying him were, we later learned, ‘security’. They were both quite
scruffy in appearance -
The other guard, the younger and more pierced of the two, then gave a speech, forcefully
telling us that we were wasting everyone’s time and that we must give up the table
and chairs or we would be forced to remove them. He had clearly flipped. Malcolm
and some others leapt on this mention of force, challenging the manager. The manager
then said that if we did not go then the police would be called. The security men
then came to each of us demanding that we vacate our chairs. They were menacing but
not physically forceful. In the end I grudgingly relinquished mine reasoning that
I still did not know what this was all about and that it was their chair and, anyway,
my wife no longer had one. Everyone else did the same -
Malcolm’s chair became a symbol of our strange occupation. During the next hour or so we circulated around the sports section with Malcolm and his chair as our hub. If he needed to get up to stretch than someone else occupied in the chair so that it could not be taken away. And so we waited for the police to come. I had been somewhat arbitrarily dragged into this, but was now firmly on Malcolm’s side. I still did not know what made him the ‘most controversial character in Oxford’. However during the wait I did learn a little more from his wife, from himself and from some of the other other sympathisers.
The manager returned and announced that the police had been called and that we were in his store illegally. The lady with the white hair asked if she could buy a book. At first he said no, he wanted her to leave. Then he seemed to realise that this was silly; this was a bookshop. There was then some negotiation which I missed, but it led to the books being brought to her by one of the security men. Inevitably the books were the two written by Andrew Malcolm. The manager then insisted that she go to the tills in order to pay, the tills being located next to the exit on the ground floor. Sensing a ploy to eject her she refused, insisting that payment could be taken from her right there. She was very keen to buy the books, probably in the belief that it validated her presence in the bookshop thus making the manager’s efforts to remove us seem ever more ridiculous. Once again he relented; in the end I suppose he reasoned that he was there to sell books. A portable credit card swipe machine was brought and the transaction completed.
The police arrived at last in the form of one young lady policeman looking very smart
in her freshly pressed white shirt and hung about with all of the technical paraphernalia
that the police now carry. She was delightful. She explained that the manager was
quite right, that this was private property and since he did not want us there we
should leave peacefully. She listened patiently to the many objections made by Malcolm
and his support crew. One objection to our removal was the lady with the white hair’s
She did not return so we began the wait for reinforcements. Though I had supported
the spontaneous protest so far -
Then the police did arrive in force. Four of them, including our original police
lady. A cheerful, short and powerfully built officer was spokesman. He talked only
to Malcolm and soon persuaded him to leave, and we then followed. Funnily enough
as we mounted the escalator the security men added an extra member to our party.
A tall man in his early thirties was grabbed by the elbow and told that he was banned
from the store and had to leave immediately. I can only assume that he was a book
As we rode the escalator the lady who had interviewed Edwina Curry told me that she felt emotionally drained by the whole evening. Did I feel the same way? I said that I did not so she transferred her interest to my wife, with whom she was able to commune. Outside on the street were three police cars and a number of puzzled bystanders. They wanted to know what was going on and I did not know where to begin an explanation of the entire affair. My wife told them simply that Borders were suppressing free speech and that they shouldn’t shop there.
The police seemed quite content that they had succeeded in removing us from the bookshop. They did not arrest us. My wife and I were now fully adopted members of the Andrew Malcolm supporters club: while the man with the cap and rural jacket filmed the continuing friendly interchange between the police and Oxford’s most controversial character we were thanked for staying throughout the whole thing. Once the police had departed we were asked to join them all for a drink. We did not, partly because they could not decide where to go, partly because we were still not sure why we were there and partly because we had somewhere else to go. Live music and beer in a city centre pub beckoned.
Later I had a little time to leaf through a copy of The Remedy, Malcolm’s second
book, a copy of which he kindly gave me. It is a record of his dispute with Oxford
University Press. It is well-
What is a mystery to me is why Borders had arranged that evening’s event, advertised
it quite widely, and then cancelled it at the last moment. I am not one to see conspiracies
everywhere, most seeming conspiracies are actually cock-
We continued to wait for the policemen. Another person joined us, clearly a friend
of the Malcolm’s and an active supporter of the “cause” -
About half an hour into our vigil the least pierced of the security men made an appeal.
This whole thing was silly and a waste of time, he said. He was now late for his
dinner and involving the police in a matter of this nature was a waste of their time.
A few of us responded to this by saying that it was Borders that had wasted our time
by cancelling this event at the last moment. If, regardless of the cancellation,
they had allowed the meeting to go ahead the entire thing would be over by now. I,
for one, would have been a little the wiser and he could have been at home eating
Every year, just before Christmas, I fast for at least 24 hours. There is no one reason for this. I do it to prove that I can. I do it because I then feel better able to cope with the gluttony of Christmas. I do it because it has now become a tradition with me. I do it because I think one should fast now and then. But I also do it for the sheer pleasure of breaking the fast.
This is the year of 2002. I began my fast at about 12.30 am on Sunday morning – the 22nd. I had been to the Wheatsheaf Pub with my son to watch a band called Smilex. The band’s lead singer is a nutcase who climbs onto any available surface during his performance and throws things at the audience – chocolate minirolls in celebration of Christmas in this case. I ate a miniroll, had four or five pints of beer, watched an old Elvis performance on TV, then ate a few potato crisps with cheese. And then to bed.
I ended my fast at 10.30 a.m. on Monday morning, thirty-
I awoke fairly early and spent an hour or two somewhere in between sleep and waking. I got up at 9.30 a.m. dressed in old but warm clothing and took the dog for a run. It was foggy and wet, the fields were slippery, but the run was good. I returned at sometime after ten, felt ill and therefore decided to shower before eating. The shower had its magical effect, I felt ready to break my fast and begin the ritual of carefully preparing my breakfast. The food is identical to the food I have almost everyday – but normally I am barely aware of it. My breakfast consists of a glass of orange juice, preferably not too cold; a bowl of cereal with piping hot milk; a banana, preferably in perfect condition; and a cup of fennel tea – with a sweetener tablet. I prepare them reverently and slowly. I need to be alone as I do this. I lay them out carefully on the dining room table. The cereal directly in front of me, the banana to the left, the orange juice straight ahead – just beyond the cereal, the fennel tea steaming away to the right. Then I wait for a while to increase my anticipation, improve my concentration and to relax myself – also I wait to prove to myself that I can wait.
I then take the first sip of orange. Glorious. It cuts like a scythe through the metallic mustiness that has built up in my mouth. It is the essence of orangeness. It splits into water, into sugar and back to that central smooth orange liquor. I take another sip and that is just as good, then another, the glory begins to fade, but it is still good to feel that cool wholesome liquid pass over my tongue and down the throat into the knotted stomach. It is so substantial after the thinness of water.
Then the cereal, currently I eat a pecan and maple mixture. The contrast is wonderful, it is hot where the juice is cold, it is sweet where the juice has that refreshing tanginess. My teeth are aware of crunching each individual nut. My tongue savours the sweetness of the maple syrup and the warmth of the milk. My mouth is filled with the consistency of the cereal and the activity of munching. Spoonful after spoonful, it tastes so good that I want it to last forever, but then it is gone.
Then the banana, I peel it slowly, almost erotically. I softly nibble off the tip.
Soft, creamy, tasty – is there any little package which is more filled with goodness
than a banana? Someone once told me that they could no longer bear to eat them, because
they had once been placed on a banana diet in order to reduce weight -
Then the hot fennel tea, sweet hot fennel tea, tasting so much sweeter then usual, and yet it contains the same single sweetener tablet. Fennel is a nice taste, a subtle taste, it tastes like its name It is the essence of Ouzo from Greece without the alcohol. Anis from Spain without the A.
And then it’s all over. Back to normal for another year. Christmas is just around the corner, mince pies, turkey, beer, wine, sprouts, cheese, port, brandy, cake, pudding. But none of it, not one bit of it, will be quite as pleasurable as that first glass of orange juice.
Some people have the supreme ability of total and absolute recall. Rubbish, in fact they simply have a supreme belief in their own recollections, a secret video camera or a well kept diary could soon appraise them of reality. I recall a blue car nosing out from the left, a glance to the right then back again to the main road. The road was then entirely occupied by the blue car. There was no way out and no time to stop. I am certain that I said “Oh f….” but did not complete the expletive. I am not cerain that I actually had time time to apply the brakes at all. I think that I laid my motorbike down to the right, aligning it with he car in a reflex action that just might have minimised my injuries. Who knows?
When my motorcyle was first delivered I just happened to be looking out of my office window. The biket was strapped to a trailer and it certainly did look good. Gleamingly new, powerfully proud, it took the eye of a young man who was walking along the road hand in hand with his girlfriend. She must have seen it too, but was unaffected. He meanwhile swivelled his head, following the course of the machine so closely that it seemed his neck might snap.
What is this thing about motorcyles? It clearly affects only a minority of people and mostly males at that. Normal people, if they have an opinion at all, regard them as dangerous, dirty, and noisy – and regard the people who ride them in much the same light.
The average age of motorcyclists has followed a bath shape curve over the years. Once the province of the older man, and primarily regarded as a basic means of transport for those who could not afford a car it evolved into the symbol of youthfull revolution, spurred to some extent by Marlon Brando in his own youth. Nowadays the average motorcyclist is mature, wealthy and a hobbyist. With that change has come the drive towards safety, a strange twist on a pursuit that is intrinsically unsafe. Bikes have better brakes and better handling, meanwhile riders tend to take courses to make them into better riders.
I cannot recall the collision. Some time afterwards someone opined that this was
just as well -
I enrolled on a motorcycling course for two reasons, first I really wanted to know
what best to do if and when I did crash and second I wanted my son to come along
with me so that he would not crash at all. The course was run by Bill and Rog, both
policeman with many years experience in “traffic” and with the police riding manual
thoroughly ingested and ready for instant regurgitation. I admired Bill’s style of
presentation enormously -
For all of that he, and his less ebullient co-
The impact of a crash has many side-
The culmination of my motorcycling course was a ride-
In any event my trip was not ostensibly social, I did not know the other riders in
my group except for the occasional word exchanged during the theory part of the course,
and the leader was a complete stranger to us all. He was a confident square jawed
chap in his early forties. Tall, almost too tall for his motorbike, he introduced
himself and then asked about our riding experience. I gave a self-
We set off, macho man in the lead, me second, and the two experts last. We were the big bike group, everyone powered by an engine exceeding one litre – bigger engines than many cars. For all of my engine size I felt intimidated, no one seemed interested in my bike, it was rather special yet I sensed that they looked down on it. Though fairly confident of my own riding skills this environment made me nervous, like someone who sings is the bath suddenly being pushed onto the stage of a packed concert hall. I was here to learn but I perceived that there was a little more to this ride, it was innately competitive. Added to that I did not know the country at all – this was not my patch.
Much to my surprise we lost the other two at the first roundabout, macho man pulled into a side road to wait for them. This was encouraging, but I was later to find just how difficult it was to keep up when traffic at roundabouts and changing traffic lights tended to split you from the pack. I was given first lead. Macho man gave me some confusing navigational instructions and told me to take off, he would follow and observe me in action. I hated this. I had no idea where I was going and was exquisitely aware of being observed. I suppose that being watched becomes a natural thing to an actor, perhaps not. I am a mature man and have spent many years lecturing and speaking at conferences. When I know what I am talking about I am serenely confident – I think. Here I felt awkward. I changed gear at the wrong moments, forgot to cancel my indicator, took wrong turnings. In short I behaved like an idiot and was supremely relieved when macho man indicated that one of the other riders should take over the lead.
That the collision had unbalanced my mind was brought home to me by the youthfull
policeman who asked simple questions, questions that I had difficulty answering.
One of these concerned the direction of travel. I knew that my progress was towards
the centre of the city, yet I indicated the wrong direction. It was then that I began
to doubt that I knew where I was at all.I could see some shops on the other side
of the street, but I did not know them well, yet I felt that I should do. Ever since
the accident I had felt removed from my physical surroundings, somewhat as if this
had not really happened to me, as if I was placed inside this injured body as an
observer. My disorientation increased this feeling – and presumably made the policeman
doubt anything that I said. A day later I had a call from Rockstar. His phone had
recorded the number I had keyed to contact my son and he used the number to call
and ask how I was – how nice. It was Rockstar who helped to reassert my orientation.
Although he had not seen the accident itself, it was obvious to him that the bike
had spun by 180 degrees. I had been sat at the roadside watching my bike loose its
life supply of brake fluid, saddened by the twisted front end and smashed windscreen
and vaguely puzzled by the shops on the opposite side of the road, vaguely aware
that they should have been on my side of the road. Rockstar’s observation explained
it all, the bike was pointing in the wrong direction -
As the third rider flashed by macho man and myself I felt a twinge of concern. There
was a look of determination about this man. He sat bolt upright on a police style
bike in a position which seemed to be pushing the machine forward, he did not glance
at us as he passed – a bad sign. He did adhere to speed limits however and my machine
was an adequate match for his in acceleration. Then we swept out into the countryside
and I was struggling to keep up. I tried to remember all that we had been taught,
I positioned myself so that I commanded the maximum view of the road ahead. I engaged
the correct gear, took cognisance of possible dangers, accelerated smoothly around
bends. But it was those bends that did it. The others took them at a greater speed
than I did. Not a lot, but enough to ensure that I constantly dropped behind and
therefore had to accelerate hard along the straights in order to catch up. At times
I enjoyed the ride, it was exhilarating, yet I also felt inadequate as a rider, that
I was letting the “team” down by my slow cornering, that I was being forced to ride
at speeds that were beyond the capability of my machine. I was relieved to reach
I began to weep in the ambulance. I’m not sure why: frustration, embarrasment, shock – I held back the tears but I did want to cry. This was my first ambulance trip as an accident victim and I certainly did not want to loose my dignity or fail to observe the experience. The nurse was efficient, though distant. She had a procedure to go through and did so kindly and cooly. I was given oxygen, my blood pressure was checked, my details taken, my symptoms noted. All this while the ambulance swung around corners and I tried to ascertain from the very poor backwindow view just where we were. I knew where we were going, but still felt some need to check progress and establish current location. We arrived at the hospital at last. I was, if anything, deteriorating. My foot ached abysmally and I felt as if a mature bull had rammed into my left side. I could taste blood and could not resist exploring a wound above my eye.
I was wheeled to the casualty department and parked in a cubicle. I have an inordinate fear of being abandoned within the confusing confines of large hospitals. This is a well founded fear based on an actual abandonment. On that occasion I was quite capable of asserting myself and slipped back into the system, here I felt powerless, confined to a wheelchair and feeling pitiful. Fortunately a nurse came by, repeated most of the procedures endured in the ambulance then wheeled me into the waiting area. These are odd places. There is little to do except wait and to examine the injuries of fellow sufferers. Dressed in scraged black leathers, a bloody crash helmet on my lap, a cut above the eye and a bloody mouth, I was an interesting new diversion for a while. The injured and their companions looked at me either openly or surreptitiously, some, I thought, contemptuously – there does exist a minority of people who believe that injured motorcyclists bring their damage upon on themselves, like smokers with lung cancer. No one spoke to me and I was in no condition to make conversation. I felt very low, very much alone, unwilling even to observe other people’s injuries. I had been told that a doctor would see me in about an hour. Clearly my injuries were not thought to be serious, though I felt dreadful. As the wait went on I became more aware of my pains. It was extremely difficult to move and almost impossible to find a comfortable position in the wheelchair.
Time passed, how long I do not know. Then my son arrived, and I broke down. I had been preparing myself for his arrival, yet I broke down. He, poor lad, had no idea what to say or do. He was then a lad of 23 tender years, a fellow motorcyclist, sensitive but unempathetic. I tried to speak but sobbed instead, hitting my helmet with my hand in frustration. I tried again and again with the same result. He was puzzled and said nothing. At last I got to grips with myself and began to discuss the accident. He had been to the spot and gave me some feedback in his abrupt, matter of fact, manner. Then the police entered the waiting room and took a statement from me. My wife arrived and looked, I thought, disapproving more than sympathetic. She touched my hand but was otherwise undemonstrative. We talked about the accident and waited and waited. Then at last my name was called.
The doctor was concerned about my injuries. I thought that they were painful but
trivial, after all I had been sitting for several hours in the waiting room, hardly
an emergency case. My outer clothing was removed and my chest bared. I timidly mounted
the trolley bed suffering excruciating pain from my back, shoulder, chest and right
foot. The examination was rapid and hurtful. The doctor clearly thought that I had
suffered a spinal injury, he obtained a neck brace which clamped my adam’s apple
so tightly that I could not swallow – and therefore needed to swallow all the more.
He then taped my head to the trolley so that no movement was possible. It was horrific,
a room 101 scene. My sister’s son has muscular atrophy, he can only move two fingers,
sufficient to operate his computer. For the first time in my life I felt that I had
some idea what life might be like for him. As I was wheeled to the X-
A long and painful wait, then the doctor returns at last with the X-
Another strapped down, prone, eye swivelling trip to the X-
Monday: Good weeks start on a downer -
But all is not lost; Monday is blues night at the Bullingdon. Good group: Eddie Martin
and the Texas Blues Kings. Great name, but none of the group is from Texas -
Eddie is supposed to be the greatest guitarist since Eric Clapton. He is bald and
wears dark glasses, plays the harmonica and sings well. What an icon -
I like these blues nights. Dim lights, good music and a range of ages from student
to OAP. And at the centre of it all, Silver Phil, the organiser -
Tuesday: Visit Sainsburys. Buy weird things: Jerusalem artichokes, root ginger, onions,
Off to a talk by Carole Angier. She's one of the biographers of Primo Levi, and actually
teaches biography as a topic. The fascinating thing about this talk was that Carole
seemed defensive, even apologetic, about her book. The reason, on the face of it,
is simple: the biography is intrusive. I suppose all biography is, but in this case
the subject's family are still alive and kicking -
And so to a wonderful piano recital at Maison Française. It was free, yet not that
well attended. The person next to me thought that more people would have come if
there had been a charge -
Afterwards a quick visit to the Lamb and Flag pub in St Giles where I met a really nice man called Tony. He is one of the legion of older divorcees that our society is throwing up. After thirty years of marriage he had his feet in his slippers, his mind on his garden and his eye on retirement. Suddenly he is single again, a new job, a new home, a new life. It can almost kill some people but this man is a positivist. He's out and about and he's coming to the Blues next Monday!
Wednesday: Went to a lecture at the Clarendon Labs about Life at Extremes. Everything
was in darkness and the doors were locked. I was a little late so maybe the lecture
was taking place with the lights out and the heating off -
Afterwards I went to the Gloucester Arms to recover. Over the noise of the loudest heavy metal jukebox in town I became acquainted with a man whose mother was Glaswegian and father Palestinian. He was born in Jerusalem and had strong opinions about everything from the Iraqi situation to the Welsh character. After the play he seemed refreshingly normal. Then home to concoct something special with those weird things that I bought from the supermarket. It was not good but I am undeterred.
Thursday: It's a biography week. Today the pert and loquacious Georgina Ferry delivered
an intelligent and spirited attack on the low standing given to the biographies of
scientists. She, of course, writes biographies -
Then off to Ruskin College for an evening of unusual music from Flute Phil and friends. I think everyone in Oxford knows of him. You can often seem him playing his flute in the Cornmarket and there has been a furore of correspondence in the local papers after some chap had the gall to criticise his music. Undaunted, he was in fine form both playing solo and when accompanying some of his friends. Most of the musicians who play at Sparky's Flying Circus were there. They play in the Half Moon and, look, could that be the landlord, Joe, up on the stage there bashing away at his bodhran? With nearly all the customers and also the landlord here I wondered what is happening to the pub.
Soft lights and susurrating music -
Back to reality in my local pub. The landlord's had a haircut and he's cleanly shaved. What's going on? Are standards going to rise? Will I have to find somewhere else to drink? He just smiles mysteriously and surveys the bar. All is well; the customers are still as chaotic as normal, if chaos can be normal.
I wrote this little account whilst I was still flitting around the world in gainful employ – mostly teaching engineers about mobile technology, particularly the then up and coming third generation. This was part of a round the world trip. I had been lecturing in Buenos Aires, Argentina before flying to Lima and afterwards went to Japan and Singapore. My writing style was perfunctory and quite lacking in detail back then. I hope that it has improved since. I’ve tidied the piece up a little but do feel somewhat embarrassed by the concentration on nightclubs (peñas) and beer. Believe me I did visit churches, palaces and museums when I had time in the day, but for some reason it was the night life that made me write.
Lima. Everyone says that it is dangerous so you become neurotic. Yet it does not
seem so bad, though there are clearly heavy crime levels and heavy cause for crime.
Twenty five percent of the population of Lima is unemployed. ‘Les pobres’ are everywhere
and their makeshift villages surround this sprawling capital of capitals. Indian
children are routinely used for begging and they can be extremely persistent. Blocking
your way at every step as you walk the squares of the city, holding out a dirty hand
and constantly pleading in a pitiful voice saying ‘one sole’. I gave nothing, though
I noticed that both Cuban-
Before coming to Peru I had thought the Incas to be a very ancient civilisation – but it seems they were not. The empire rose quickly from one Andean tribe, with a messianic, military leader at their head they spread rapidly across the country. Writing or not they were clearly clever in terms of building design, tools, ceramics and textiles. Where are they now? Do the Incas live on within the mixed blood of the mestizos or within the remaining Indian tribes or within the Indians that cling to poverty on the outskirts of Lima?
Taxis are everywhere, tooting, shouting, flashing. There has been an attempt to cut down on the number by establishing official yellow ones which have a number on the side, but it has not worked. You have to bargain every time that you enter a taxi. On my first nervous expedition, to Barranco, I asked at the hotel desk what the trip should cost, ‘Eight dollars’, the receptionist said (most hotels deal in American dollars, virtually ignoring the local sole). But that fare is for a hotel taxi which is “safer”. So I walked from the hotel to a nearby thoroughfare and stopped the first taxi that I saw – no problem here, they descend upon you like flies around dead meat. I asked him the cost to Parca Municipal. He said $8 dollars! I looked at him unbelievingly and queried, ‘dollars’. His expression became a little wolfish and he said, “No soles, ocho soles”. So I got in, having saved myself some six dollars. Afterwards someone told me that I had still paid too much. Actually I found the entire bargaining business irritating after a while. Why don’t they just give you a price that’s realistic?
The people were friendly. Certainly those on my course were, and others that I met
elsewhere. I had a fantastic tour guide called Jenny. She told me that she was a
mestiza – part Spanish, part Indian. What a mixture: small, petite, brown slightly
angular features. Beautiful with a ready smile she had raven-
On that first expedition I met a local in Juanita’s bar on the Avenida Grau. He was a little drunk. Having discovered that I was English he started each sentence in my language but then dribbled into a slurred Spanish that I had no chance of understanding. He wanted me to go with him to some place that had dancing (I think) but I bought him a beer and left. I found somewhere to eat, consumed my first Lomo Saltado and then returned to the bar next to Juanita’s. The sweeper there had given me a flyer stating that the place had live music. But the music was no good so home to bed.
The next night I went to Chaccun’s, a huge peña in Miraflores. I thought at first that it was going to be awful, but after a few glasses of wine and a change of performers things really warmed up. One thing that fascinated me was the audience’s willingness to dance! The dance floor was quite small but they all crowed on to it – packed so closely that they could barely move. They were not at all like an English audience where everyone waits for someone else to start; they were up and at it straight away. The dance floor was raised by something like a metre and it seemed at times that some of them would fall off.
Anyway it was a spectacular. I shall only mention the best performances. The Mexican-
On Saturday night I was in a dilemma. I did not know what to do. I had witnessed
the Chaccun show and the guide on my daylight explorations had told me that the peñas
were much the same – at least in content. She suggested that I go to Parca Kennedy
in Miraflores to see the dancing there. I did so, and it was good. In the centre
of the park, a park surrounded by street vendors selling paintings, is a dell or
circular depression. It is man-
I found a café for a beer and watched people pass. Only one little girl approached
me for money. Begging was clearly not encouraged there. The beer – Cusqena – was
crap. There was another one called Cristal, and that was crap too. Interestingly
the beer from the ‘pump’ is called Chop. All gaseous, cold stuff with the usual lagery
excuse for taste. I decided to return to Barranco. In a magazine I had found a list
of bars in the area and one was called the Bierhaus. That, I thought, must have some
decent beer. I could not find a taxi driver who knew of it, or the street that it
was in -
It was not far but I still got lost. Partly because I passed through the Parca Municpale where a large group of traditionally dressed musicians were playing and two dumpy young ladies in short fluffy traditional skirts were dancing. This pair then pulled men out of the crowd to join them – the men did not resist.
Lima people are very helpful so I soon found the peña. Not too many people there and there was a 40 sole cover charge. They served a very limited selection of food – snacky type stuff mainly – so I thought I had made a huge mistake, there goes Saturday night. The music didn’t start until around midnight, by which time the back of the stage had filled with, keyboard, guitar, base, three percussion and two background singers. All dressed for the part and waiting for the action to start. (Two of the percussionists sat on the simple box drums that I had seen at Chaccun’s. These instruments fascinated me. I later learned that they are called cajons and, some years later I acquired one of my own).
Then, suddenly, a little lady in a black trouser suit leapt onto the stage – and
from that moment on we had non-
I left in high spirits but picked up a problem taxi driver on the way back. He said the fare was eight soles, I said five. I thought that he had agreed on this but, when we got back, I gave him six and he then demanded the original eight. I paid up but left the taxi feeling very cross. Pathetic isn’t it, he got an extra 40p for what was quite a long journey.
My wife Margaret came over on the day after I had finished giving courses and I took her on an expensive ten day tour of Southern Peru. It was great. We visited all of the major attractions such as Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and Cuzco. We returned to Lima on the 7th April and I had a clear goal in mind for Saturday night – another peña. A couple of my students had recommended Brisas de Titicaca, so I called the place. The number didn’t work. The woman in our hotel was not much help, she did not speak any English, but she finally connected me through to the owner of the hotel. He told me that nothing would be on. The elections were to be held the next day; all alcohol was banned for two days. He recommended going to a Miraflores restaurant for a nice meal. He told me that restaurants could serve booze. He was wrong on both accounts. The Mano Morenas in Barranco did take my booking. They did have a show and they were a restaurant. We arrived at ten. There were very few others there at that hour. We asked what they had to drink. No alcohol allowed they said – elections. I explained that we were British and therefore exempt. It didn’t work, still no alcohol. We ate a stomach stretching Creole mixed meal and washed it down with alcohol free Chicha Morena which is a bit like heavy Ribena.
Once again the music was great. A smaller group this time headed by the cajon drummer.
The same dancers did most of the sets and at the end of the evening I was up there
on the stage with a candle in my hand sober as a judge and trying to light some lady’s
tail. We had to ask the taxi to wait, it was that good. Then they would not accept
my credit card without a passport. I gave them my, well-
Margaret returned to England the next day and I headed north to Trujillo to visit a famous city made of mud. Great place Peru, but why, with so many resources, are they so poor? Could it be to do with those alcohol free elections?
Binsey Church has always fascinated me. I have often told people the tale of Oxford's
founder, Saint Frideswide: of her search for a suitable spot for her priory, the
pursuit by King Algar, the lighting strike and the miraculous cure -
Then, on Saturday night as I was about to leave my local pub, someone tripped me
into action. "The last service in Binsey Church takes place tomorrow," he announced,
"come along, three-
I set out the next afternoon. It was dull, grey and overcast. As I turned my bicycle
into Binsey Lane it began to rain. Cold droplets spattered onto by face and began
to dampen my clothing. Binsey Lane is quite long -
The church is small and quaint. It is set amongst trees with a large farmhouse, very
clearly marked as private, alongside it. To the left the by-
The doors of the church were open and the service had already started -
What was I doing there -
Then it was over. Relieved but invigorated I overheard someone say to the vicar,
"See you on Christmas Day." What? I had been misinformed! This was not the last service
in Binsey Church -
To one side of the church I found the fabled well of St Frideswide and Lewis Carroll.
It is rather lovely. The well itself is at the bottom of a short flight of steps.
It is round and about two feet deep, lying beneath a fine stone arch which has an
inscription to Frideswide upon it. I didn't take any of the curative water -
Never underestimate the power of the Web. Though agents and publishers had shown little interest in the book I was writing, a trailer hiding amongst the other dross on my web site led to a number of requests for copies – and an invitation to take part in a film! The book itself is about the technology patented by Hedy Lamarr (for younger readers she was a famous Hollywood star of the 30’s and 40’s) and her piano playing partner, George Antheil. It just happens that this technology powers the new generation of mobiles and the radio links that your computer may or may not use. What this stuff is, and how the devil an actress and piano player came to invent it, is what my book is all about.
To cut a long story short: Lisa Perkins sitting at her PC in Boston found my site,
we chatted over email, I released the manuscript to her – and she invited me to the
USA to appear in a documentary film that she is making about Hedy. Now I must quickly
say that this is not going to be a Hollywood blockbuster, but Lisa and her group
are serious filmmakers. Her previous creation was a one-
Lisa picked me up at Boston airport and in the car we broke the ice by trading stories.
She told me that she was renting out an apartment house somewhere in Boston. I told
her of the trouble I had experienced when returning to the house that I had rented
out to fund a Middle-
Lisa lives in Cambridge, Mass and most of her circle is associated with Harvard University
in some way or another. She had booked me into a B&B run by the wife of a Harvard
professor, a lovely lady who insisted on sitting with me over breakfast and keeping
up a non-
I spent a puzzling, but entertaining, first evening meeting lots of people who may
or may not have been part of the film team and being made much of -
Next day I was taken to a Harvard laboratory where the filming was to take place.
It was just across the road from Harvard’s impressive Memorial Hall (with its dining
hall based on that of Christ Church in Oxford). The lab was like any lab; the equipment
within it had little to do with Hedy and George’s invention, but it did have a blackboard
and a few technical-
Later in the day we did another session. This was filmed in someone’s garden, the wooden terrace done out to look like a bar. They even gave me beer! I was in my element. Here I talked with a man I had been dying to meet. Paul Lehrman had made a film about George Antheil and his crazy, but oh so fascinating, composition ‘The Ballet Mecanique’ – music for 16 pianolas, 3 aeroplane propellers, a siren and god knows what else. We discussed the invention and Hedy and George’s contribution to it. We also speculated upon how it was possible that they could come up with such a startling idea when neither one seemed to have had a technical bone in their body. As the filming progressed it was regularly interrupted by low flying helicopters for some mysterious reason. The interruptions gave me time to reflect: “This isn’t work,” I thought, “sitting here drinking beer in this lovely garden, chatting to a fascinating man and encouraged to do so by a beautiful young actress – this is the ultimate skive.”
The filming was completed on the first day, though they had allowed three. Everyone congratulated me, and they all congratulated each other. I visited Harvard on one of the spare days and went to Lexington to see an old friend from my technical days on another. I spent the last evening on the town with Lisa, my delightful producer and then, next day, back to Blighty.
I don’t know whether the film will ever see the light of day or how little of my
bit will be included, but I really did enjoy the trip. Something about working in
a familiar but slightly alien environment and amongst creative people, I suppose.
This film business is a little like writing, but so much more a team venture. I liked
Harvard, I liked the people that I met and I liked being a ‘film star.’ And the whole
We approached Sutton Courtenay from the South, partly by mistake. It is not the best approach. The place is one of those Oxfordshire villages that are clearly divided into the haves and have nots, the old and the new, the stylish and the utilitarian. At first we could not find the church. We did find a church but not the church. This one was the catholic church which is in the "other" part of Sutton Courtenay. It is a newish building and fairly utilitarian. It was clearly not the correct one since it did not have a churchyard.
Finding ourselves at an intersection we thought that the village had ended. We took
the left turning towards Drayton and were soon out into the flat Oxfordshire countryside.
This did not feel right so I reversed and retraced our path back to the intersection.
This time we went straight on and we found Sutton Courtenay proper. This was a place
that lived up to its name. The average price of the cars parked at this end of the
village were, we guessed, roughly double those in the other part and house prices
roughly treble. And there was the church -
The church was rather nice, though unfortunately locked so that we could not view the interior which was a pity. It is remarkably close to the second pub, a Morland's house with some ivy covering and painted in a dark yellow colour. The church is built of stone but has an unusual red brick porch. The porch looks very old, perhaps considerably older than the grey stone church itself. Above the doors was a sandstone plaque and within it the eroded spine of some creature or perhaps a sandstone replica of a snake's skeleton. I have no idea what that was all about.
The weather was good, though the week had been one of those typically fractious ones when you are never sure whether to carry sunglasses or an umbrella. The tennis at Wimbledon had been interrupted many times by rain and Tim Henman, England's great hope and a native of these parts had just been knocked out of the finals. People who take an interest in such things were feigning disinterest now that they had no countryman to support.
The graveyard was extensive and I did think that we might search it systematically. But my wife had already begun an independent search using some technique which looked quite random to me but I am sure was following some logic of her own invention. I identified a likely section and began to walk from grave to grave following the, roughly, straight lines. I could miss out some of the graves since they were clearly modern, many of sported fresh flowers so people were still being buried here. Some of the names on the older graves were indecipherable, which was worrying. Some of the graves had a complete surround but most consisted of a simple headstone. As always some of them make sad reading, especially the painfully early demise of children.
My wife's random trail was heading towards my own linear sweep and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was stationary. I looked up and she pointed to a particular stone.
"Here it is," she called, with the very slightest tinge of triumph in her voice.
"I wanted to find it," I said grumpily as I approached.
"I know, I'm sorry," she lied, and we smiled. I knew that she would find it first somehow. But he is my hero not hers.
The headstone was fairly plain, half rounded. The grave did not have a surround.
The carved letters were quite clear -
The grave itself has two slender rose bushes growing from it, The one nearest the
headstone is a deep red, the other is white with some interesting pink striping.
The striping, my wife informed me, is probably caused by a virus -
"Someone must look after the grave," I said to my wife.
"The weeds are perennials and need digging out," she said practically. She was right, they were mostly dandelion and buttercup.
"All the same I think I would like to clear it," I said kneeling down and commencing to pull up what I could of the weeds before they overgrew the grave of the man who I regard as the greatest English writer of the twentieth century. Silly as it was, it seemed the least I could do for all of the pleasure he had given me. I began to list the titles of his books as I worked.
" Burmese Days, Down and Out in London and Paris, The Clergyman's Daughter, Coming up for Air,………"
"I'll dead head the roses," said my wife. Later she also did a little weeding.
We hadn't realised that he had died so young. I am already eight years his senior and hope to see a lot more years yet. I have read almost everything that he wrote, including the collections of newspaper articles. I was introduced to him by George Woodcock's book, "Crystal Spirit" and my subsequent reading led to me to agree wholeheartedly with George's title. I have read Animal Farm aloud to each of my four children, at least once. And I never tired of the story and the writing. Snowball in particular became a family icon. I am sure that Orwell's writings on the English language have improved my own writing, and I am grateful.
I could not recall why he had ended up in Stanton Harcourt rather than the Isle of Jura where he spent his latter days, or in the counties of East Anglia with which I associate his pen name and a good stretch of his life. He made many audio recordings of the people of that region in order to preserve the way of agricultural life style before it gave way to mechanisation. We presumed that he was too ill to stay on the island that he lived. Then my wife found the much more impressive tomb of Herbert Asquith and we recalled that there was some link here.
Later I found that Eric Blair had died in London. The choice of Sutton Courtenay as burial place was somewhat arbitrary. He wanted to be buried in a country churchyard though he was certainly not a religious man in the conventional sense. He had a friend in Violet Asquith, who had been director of the BBC and this influenced the choice of All Saints Church in Sutton Courtenay as the place of burial.
It is fifty-
In an essay entitled "Why I Write" he compiled a list of reasons, presumably in order
of importance. The first reason is: "Sheer egotism. Desire to seem clever, to be
talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-
July 6th 2002
PS Afterwards we went to Little Wittenham by car and then by foot across the Thames
to Dorchester to visit the Abbey. For some reason it was not so impressive as the
little church in Sutton Courtenay. We then walked to Burcot and onwards to re-
Idly scratching my forehead on the kerbside in downtown Lima, Peru only to find a host of scrap cars charging towards me, each with TAXI hand painted on them.
Standing above the Iguisudani station in Tokyo, trying to convince myself that the precision movement of trains below me is not actually that of an electric train set.
Abandoning a colleague, in order to take the subway, in Place Rouppe, Brussels where his car had been completely gridlocked for over quarter of an hour.
Almost missing a wedding because the Barcelona to London flight took eight hours rather that two, the “computer system was down.”
In my own trade one of the most quoted rules of speed is Moore’s Law. This simply claims that the speed of computers doubles every eighteen months. It is not accurate, but it’s not far out.
As you can see from this chart taken from the Intel Web site, Moore’s Law actually addresses the number of transistors in a processor. Gordon Moore was a founder of the Intel company that supplies most of the processors used in PC’s. It is this company that has supplied many of the innovations that have made his law a reality. In fact Gordon first penned the law in 1965, before Intel itself had been formed.
What if Moore’s Law applied to travel? Let’s take as an example a motor car journey
between the two great capitals: London and Edinburgh. We will go back in time to
1965, the year that Moore’s Law was born and the year that the Beatles released Help!
Let’s assume that the mid-
Of course Moore’ Law is itself ridiculous. Nothing can carry on growing at the incredible
rate that Gordon predicted. In fact the law’s creator delivered a lecture a few years
ago that said just that. He suggested that an end was in sight to the rapid increase
in transistor density and that this would occur sometime around 2017 -
But is this travel comparison so ridiculous? What is it that actually limits the
speed of physical travel? Returning to the journey from London to Edinburgh, it is
of course possible to take a plane. In that case you will get there after a short
flight of one and a quarter hours. Of course, it is quite possible that planes will
get faster -
There is another limit to physical speed, though it’s not one that we need worry
too much about for some time. This is, of course, the ultimate speed limit -
And therein lies the very good reason for mixing up the worlds of physical travel
and the microchip. In fact we can reach Edinburgh in about three thousands of a second!
We do it regularly when we use the telephone. All right, all right, for those expert
readers amongst you, the signals do not actually travel at the speed of light -
This brings me to a question that is a regular chestnut. Who would want to travel
when they have all the power of the computer, of telecommunications and the Internet
at their fingertips? Who would want to travel at subsonic speeds when they can travel
at the speed of light? This is a question that has been asked many times before,
and yet people still travel. But everything changes. We need to clear our minds of
all the well-
Why, for example, did I have to face all those scrap cars parading as taxis in Lima?
It takes around 20 hours to fly to the place anyway -
And did I really need to travel to Japan just to experience the efficiency of its
railways? Of course not, in fact I could probably get a more balanced impression
by watching a good documentary programme on the subject. But I travelled to Japan
for a number of reasons. One was to see how the Japanese use mobile phones, another
was to experience a culture that I have always found puzzling. To that end I stayed
in a Ryokan -
And then there is my one experience of absolute gridlock in Brussels. For all I know
the man that we left behind, the poor car driver, is still there. We managed to steer
our luggage through the narrow gaps between stationary cars, we did not die of asphyxiation
from the hundreds of car exhausts in that car locked square and we made it just in
time to board the Eurostar at Gare Du Nord. We were in Brussels to judge a competition
And why do we need to rush to weddings, only to find that the “computer” has trashed
our careful travel plans? Why does the ticketing computer affect the flight times
anyway? Is technology taking over; slowing us down rather than speeding it up? But
it was only a wedding. We could have watched the video. Given easily available technology
we could have watched it live -
These are simple examples, you can add to them. Technology is moving forward apace.
Moore’s Law drives on relentlessly. New ideas and new technology do not appear quite
as spontaneously as people remote from technological developments imagine -
Science fiction has explored most of those developments for us. You may recall the
film The Fly, remade a few years ago and much more horrifying than the original which
haunted me as a child. In The Fly the main character has invented a teleportation
machine. Details of the machine are sketchy of course, but the general idea is that
you are broken down into elements that can be successfully transmitted at the speed
of light. At the receiver you are then reformed -
A few years ago I investigated virtual reality. It was great, but certainly not very real. This scene has been a little quiet for a while, but it will be back and it will be better. And in the end it may well be possible to experience a Japanese Ryokan without actually going to Japan. And it will include the tastes of the food and the exhilaration of the hot springs.
That these things will come I have no doubt. I also have little doubt that they will
become practical in this century. Moore’s Law will make it so. Will travelling at
the speed of light be as good as the “real thing?” The ingredient that it may lack
is arbitrariness. I found my Japanese Ryokan after a series of interesting accidents.
We often get to talk to other people by arbitrarily being in the same space -
The place that I go to in North Oxfordshire has been repairing lawn mowers and other garden implements for nearly 30 years. Sometimes I think that machines that were brought in for repair all those years ago are still there.
I bought my hedgecutter from the owner some four years ago. He gave me a lot of advice
about it, particularly warning me against the use of stale petrol -
He was busy when I deposited the dead hedgecutter at his Chipping Norton premises.
There was no time for the usual lecture on starting procedures and stale petrol.
He simply wrote out a tie on label with the problem and my details on it. He then
told me that it would be ready soon and that he would call me when it was. I left
feeling happy and confident, this man, I felt, had a feel for garden machines -
The summer wore on, but there was no word from the hedgecutter man. Still, I never
did like cutting the hedge much and besides, there's not much of it nowadays -
As I got out of the car I could hear some appliance or another roaring away in the garden just beyond the sheds. I went into the shed marked "Office"; there was no one about. I shouted, nothing, no response. I went outside again, the roaring appliance had stopped now; a leaf blower lay abandoned on the lawn of the garden behind the shed. I walked towards it, expecting that the lawnmower man would be nearby. As I turned the corner I could see him. He had his back to me and seemed to be examining the flowerbed. He is a short man and always wears a cap. He turned towards me and I could see that he was fiddling with something near his crotch. "Ah, caught short," he said without smiling. I laughed and was grateful that he did not offer to shake hands.
I asked if my hedgecutter was ready -
We returned to the office, heads down. He explained to me that he and his wife had
recently divorced. He described the settlement in some detail. Apparently judges
nowadays have the sense to favour small businesses and to leave them in the hands
of the lead partner. This was especially important because small businesses, such
as his, provide employment. He then said that he was now a reborn teenager, his faded
blue eyes stared suspiciously at me over his half-
Much to my relief the reason why my hedgecutter was not ready was obliquely addressed
He felt the need to explain the reasons for his divorce. Apparently he and his wife
were both so involved with the business that they had ceased to take any interest
in each other. The parting was amicable: he kept the business and the property, about
two acres of prime land right on the edge of a desirable Cotswold town. She took
the cash. And here he has a problem. The accounts lady is getting on a bit and he
rather fancies a younger model. But they might be after his money. If he sold his
land for housing he could be worth a fortune, and the younger model might then walk
away, with half the loot. I opined that if I didn't go soon I might be faced with
a divorce. My long-
He accompanied me as I walked towards it, telling me that my model of hedgecutter was always a bad one to start, the Mark II was much better, it flooded the engine before starting. Then he decided that the problem was that I was keeping the cutter in a shed which was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. I intervened to say that I kept it in a garage but this was ignored. We reached the car, and he began to tell me yet more about the dancing and his new nightlife. My wife looked depressed, even the dog, sitting in the back of my car, was looking fed up. At last I managed to find a small gap in the monologue in which to say I had to go, must get back to Oxford, please to call me when the hedgecutter is ready. I dashed into the car before he could begin a new chapter. We had been talking, sorry he had been talking, for almost an hour. With his skills I'm sure that he could fix two hedgecutters in that time. Blimey, he could have fixed mine!
Four months later I returned to retrieve the hedgecutter, it was still untouched, dust covered and neglected. The man was uncharacteristically silent. He gave me a brief look that implied disloyality and a lack of confidence in his ability to repair the thing before marching off. It still doesn’t start.